New Article: Robot, Esq.

January 9th, 2013

I recently submitted a preliminary draft of a new article, titled Robot, Esq to SSRN. This article considers the ethical, jurisprudential, and legal implications of artificial intelligence systems that can offer legal services.

This article brings together a lot of thoughts I have had concerning how my own work with assisted decision making will develop as the legal and regulatory frameworks concerning artificial intelligence progresses.  I submitted this paper to the Robotics and the Law Conference at Stanford Law (a follow-up to the very cool We Robot conference I attended last year at UMiami Law), the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law, and Law and Society.

Here is the introduction:

Advances in artificial intelligence are transforming many aspects of our society, from Google’s autonomous cars to IBM’s Watson defeating the Jeopardy! world champion. The legal profession, as well, is evolving from today’s time-consuming, customized labor-intensive legal market to tomorrow’s on-demand, commoditized law’s information revolution.

In the not-too-distant future, artificial intelligence systems will have the ability to reduce answering a legal question to the simplicity of performing a search. Imagine a program similar to the iPhone’s Siri application. Call it Harlan. A would-be litigator could tell Harlan, a virtual litigation assistant, about the case at hand: the relevant parties, the facts, the merits, and the remedy sought and share any relevant documents. Based on an advanced algorithm that mapped out the relationship between all of the relevant case law, Harlan could generate forecasts of how the case would be resolved with different judges in different courts, and perhaps even recommend an ideal forum (call it fantasy-forum-shopping).

Harlan could explain how best to structure the litigation, what types of motions would be most successful, and how to structure arguments. With advances in artificial intelligence, it is not difficult to conceive of Harlan even drafting the briefs (many sections of briefs today are copied from boilerplate), or at least check the persuasiveness of the arguments against other successful arguments already accepted by courts.

Harlan would also work wonders for non-lawyers. A person could download the app, talk to Harlan in plain English, explain his or her problem, and listen to possible remedies—that may or may not involve paying a lawyer. Harlan would improve access to justice.

As transformational as this technology may be, it raises fundamental questions about how we view our legal system, the representation of clients, and the development of our law. Before we proceed to develop, implement, and rely on this technology, we must first grapple with three important issues inherent in this change. First, what are the ethical implications of this technology to the traditional attorney-client relationship? Second, what are the jurisprudential implications of non-humans making and developing legal arguments? Third, how should we, or not, develop the legal and regulatory regimes to allow systems to engage in the practice of law?

Before considering whether we can develop Harlan, we must pause to consider whether we should develop Harlan? Will it actually improve conditions for attorneys, non-attorneys, and the rule of law? This article provides a research agenda to explore how advances in artificial intelligence will impact the practice of law, and lays out a framework that considers key issues with this important technology.

This is a topic I hope to develop much further.